Order Be Your Own Chef ll Cookbook

Be Your Own Chef II coverBe Your Own Chef II is ready for purchase. You can order your copy today if you are interested in getting my second cookbook. It has 100 more pages and is much larger than the first, with more recipes to enjoy. The concept is the same as the first book, with substitutions in every recipe for those with special dietary needs, including vegan, vegetarian, gluten- free, peanut, dairy allergies, and more.

Thank you to all of you who supported book number one, as well as your support for the second edition. Click HERE to find out more information and order your copy today!



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The Story of a New Life & a Struggle for Life – Part 3

Monday, February 17, 2014

Around mid-morning, I was standing in the nursery putting clothes away. Suddenly, I felt the loss of some of my Amniotic fluid. After a few calls to the doctor’s office, we sped off to the hospital.

hospitalDuring the check-up, the tech confirmed that my water had not broken. However, the baby’s heart rate had dropped to 70 beats per minute, and my blood pressure was elevated. Thus, they made the decision to check us in and prepare me for delivery. We were taken to my labor and delivery room, where we eventually spent the next 15.5 hours anticipating the arrival we all had been waiting for.

2:00 P.M. – My labor began, as the nurses gave me inducing medicines. As every woman who has given birth would say, the pain was like no other, the worst I have ever experienced. While I was given an epidural, the relief was short-lived. The intensification of the pain would mark the beginning of a long night ahead.

With labor progressing, my dad and in-laws changed their original plans, as they had hoped to make the 8.5 hour trek from Knoxville to Norfolk the following day. Instead, they abruptly departed at 5:00 P.M. in order to arrive in time for the delivery.

After many hours of labor had passed, things started to unravel, as I had only dilated 2 centimeters. Every hour, I was given bolus amounts of pain medicine through my epidural to help alleviate pain that never seemed to downgrade to a tolerable level. The anesthesiologist was even concerned that the epidural was not working, after checking the placement of the epidural and given the amounts of medicine she had given to me. In the midst of the agony, my body started to continuously convulse. In addition, my heart rate remained elevated, and my heart condition began to spiral out of control. 

While all of this was occurring, my dad and in-laws were driving through the Shenandoah Mountains in the middle of a snow storm. My mom and dad were conversing back and forth regarding my labor via text through my mother-in-law since my dad was driving.

For those who may not know, I have a heart and adrenal condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia (IST). When I experience attacks/storms, the adrenal glands shoot out large and abnormal amounts of norepinephrine for no real reason and at any time. This then puts my body into extreme “flight” mode.

When I undergo attacks/storms, my body instantly develops a rapid increase of heart rate (in the high-100′s to low-200’s, more than my “normal” elevated heart rate), dizziness, sweatiness, and inability to walk or talk normally. Symptoms also include upset stomach, nausea, the urge to urinate, and strong heart palpitations, among others, and all at the same time. These attacks can last for a few minutes to several hours at a given time. The symptoms are similar to that of a heart attack.

While my body continued to convulse, we discovered that the nurses and the on-call doctor did not know anything about my condition. They informed us they were continuing to research information about POTS throughout the night in order to better care for me. 

In the midst of all the craziness, the nurses burst into the room at one point and confirmed that the baby’s heart rate was fluctuating from the 70’s to high-100’s. He was in distress. I was given an oxygen mask and was told to wear it indefinitely. In addition, I was going in and out of consciousness due to my body convulsing, elevated heart rate, and my POTS/IST symptoms spiraling out of control.

Tuesday, February 18th

12:00 A.M. – The doctor informed me that he wanted to give me a medicine that would speed up my dilation. After talking to him and learning about the side effects, including an elevated heart rate, I emphatically told him, “No, do not give that to me or you will actually kill me.” After a few seconds, he said “Hold on” and thought through the potential for disaster. Ultimately, he agreed and decided against the additional medication.

2:30 A.M. – My dad and in-laws arrived at the hospital after a nine hour, adrenaline-filled car ride. They walked in to find me in my hospital bed, shaking like a leaf, hooked up to an oxygen mask and monitors. The doctor filled them in on all the events that had occurred throughout the night.

3:15 A.M. – After confirming we were still several hours away from delivery, the doctor stated that he would come back in three hours to check on the progress of the dilation and told us to get some rest.

4:15 A.M. – The doctor burst through the door into my room in a panic and expressed to us that he was extremely concerned about the baby’s heart rate and mine. He concluded that we needed to have an emergency C-section as soon as possible to save us both. The baby’s heart rate peaked at 190, and both he and I were in distress for too many hours. By this point, I still had only dilated 2 centimeters, and we could not wait any longer.

4:45 A.M. – I was rushed back to the operating room for the emergency surgery, crying and fearing the worst for my precious baby.

To be continued…

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The Story of a New Life & a Struggle for Life – Part 2

If you are going through hell, keep going.  – Winston Churchill

“Is everyone okay,” I nervously asked.

“No Karen… It’s Bryan.”

Last November, my brother Bryan was involved in a horrific car accident in which he was ejected from the vehicle. It was truly a miracle that he had survived, although his injuries included several broken ribs and a shattered heel, among others. Throughout his recovery while living with my parents, he slowly began to recover. When I saw him at Christmas, he was doing well and getting stronger everyday. We had even talked about all of the family going to the Tennessee/Oklahoma football game in September.

So when I heard Mom say the words “It’s Bryan,” my heart broke into a million pieces and total fear overwhelmed me, to say the least. The next thing that came out of her mouth was the very last thing I would have expected to hear.

Earlier that evening, Bryan had a hemorrhagic stroke and was rushed to the hospital, where his body lay in a coma. I asked if there was any way that he would survive, and she responded that he most likely would not. If he did make it through, his quality of life would likely be greatly diminished in a vegetative state. The stroke had occurred quickly and out of nowhere. Doctors concluded that his car wreck had nothing to do with what had happened that night.

After Mom and I talked a bit, I got off the phone, and all I could do was cry and shake uncontrollably on the inside. I was in shock. I kept saying to myself, “He is just 39 and was doing well the last time I saw him. How on earth was my intuition spot-on that something bad was going to happen around my delivery?” I wanted to be wrong. Yet, I had known in my gut months prior something bad was going to happen. I just didn’t know what.

I kept asking God, “Why now?” Of all times, why did this happen when I was about to finally deliver my first baby and my parents’ first grandchild. While deep down I loved my baby, I honestly have to say that I didn’t care at all about our pregnancy at that point.

For days, I struggled emotionally with guilt, anger, and despair. I was torn apart with guilt of being happy about our baby while my brother was in a life-and-death situation. It felt wrong to be joyful, knowing that the other half of me was distraught over my brother and my parents. How could I be happy knowing their son/my brother was most likely not going to make it?

I struggled with and continue to struggle with anger because of the timing of everything. How could God allow my brother to possibly die at the very moment my first child was due, the one whom we have longed and prayed for for so long? I felt I was being punished, as these circumstances occurred at what was supposed to be the most special time in my life after all the prior circumstances that I had gone through. Instead, I was robbed of my joy. In addition, despair overwhelmed me – thoughts that he may not make it out alive to meet his nephew, that I may never see him again or say goodbye, and because of the pain and emotional hell my parents were going through. I was screwed up emotionally, to say the least.

My dad was so excited about this baby that he had asked off work the month before and after February 12th so that nothing, and I mean nothing, would keep him from Karen 36 weeksbeing at the birth. My brother had never been to Virginia Beach to see where I live and was planning on traveling up to see his nephew. He loved kids and could not wait to meet his nephew and be an uncle. With all this uncertainty, I still had to somehow prepare myself for both the impending birth of our son and for whatever lay ahead with Bryan.

On my due date – February 12, 2014 – I began to have contractions. Chris and I drove to the hospital, but our stay was short-lived. It turns out that the contractions were simply Braxton Hicks, and we ended up coming home. That same night, snow storms were pounding the southeast, from Virginia Beach to our parents’ hometown of Knoxville, TN. My mom decided to head eastward to stay with us just in case I went into labor and to get ahead of the storms. At that point, my mom and dad made the hard decision to split up, with Dad staying behind with Bryan, who was hooked up to machines and ventilators.

For the next few days all we could do was nervously wait for reports on Bryan, as well as anticipate our son to make his grand entrance. As you can tell, everything was up in the air. Would my brother survive? If so, what would his quality of life be like? Would my dad be able to come to the birth of his first grandchild he and my mom had longed for?

To be continued…

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The Story of a New Life & a Struggle for Life – Part 1

The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don’t give up. – Robert Tew

This quote says a thousand words. Off and on for the past couple of years, especially in 2014, this quote has been the story of my life. Due to life’s circumstances, I have not posted anything in a while. Throughout the past few years, I have wondered if I can honestly make it through the struggle of the day to even develop my strength for tomorrow.  Let me go back in time a little bit and share with you a glimpse of my life.

After losing our identical twins, Angel and Joy, a few years ago, my husband and I tried again several months later for another little bundle of joy. After two additional miscarriages just months apart, we finally got pregnant again with a due date of 2/12/14. I was not sure how to respond to it or if we should even get excited and celebrate. In my mind, the dream of being a mommy to my own baby was starting to look like a pipe dream. I said to myself that I would not get excited for this pregnancy in case we lost another one. I just could not handle any more despair in my life.

After the nightmare of our previous group of OB doctors, thankfully we began working with a new set of compassionate and skilled doctors, ironically some of whom I used to work for as a nurse. They are the only high risk pregnancy doctors in Hampton Roads. Because of my heart condition and three prior miscarriages, I am considered a high risk pregnancy. Throughout the pregnancy, shockingly things went well. For the most part, I was able to exercise everyday and function at my “normal.”

121113 Ultrasound 1For the first time, we were blessed to hear and see a heartbeat, as well as have a gender reveal party to discover that God had blessed us with a baby boy. All appointments went well with our little miracle; he was healthy and growing as he should. Approaching each appointment,  I went in with a stomach full of butterflies, expecting to hear the words that tore me apart two years prior: “Your baby is dead.” Instead, we left each appointment filled with joy and happy tears of experiencing God’s power and answered prayers. Seeing the face of our little miracle via ultrasound at each visit provided the most heart-warming and special experience for me.

Sadly, I was yet to fully embrace my pregnancy and couldn’t do so until I heard his first cry. I was truly scared to open up my heart for another loss. The fear only intensified when the doctor took me off Progesterone, a medicine prescribed to me in order to increase my ability for a viable pregnancy. I just felt in my gut the entire 9 months that something was going to happen to the baby, me, or someone else I loved.  Nearing the end of those precious nine months, Chris and I drove to the hospital a few times, even once in a snow storm, thinking with each contraction that the time had arrived. We were eagerly anticipating our moment to meet the little man we and hundreds of others had hoped and prayed for.

On February 10th at 11:30 P.M., I received a phone call that changed my life forever. I was visibly shaking, as I answered the phone. I started to panic, thinking that my intuition had been right all along. I knew that nine months of calm waters had to end sometime. My life has rarely been that easy and smooth. My mom was on the other end, and at that moment, my life shifted into an emotional hell that set off a roller coaster of events.

To be continued…

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Holiday Cake Truffles

I know this cooking demo is delayed getting posted on here but life has been crazy busy. On this cooking demo, I am promoting my 2nd cookbook that will be coming out soon. Due to my life being so busy the past few months, the book will not be ready for purchase until May or June.  It is being designed as I write this and I will let you know when you can purchase your copies.

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups granulated sugar
⅛ – ¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 (1-oz) container red food coloring
1 (1-oz) container blue food coloring
48-56 oz white chocolate
¼ – ½ cup vegetable oil

Frosting Ingredients
1 – 1 ½ (8-oz) packages cream cheese (reduced fat) (room temperature)
1 – 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter/margarine (room temperature)
1-2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1-2 Tbsp milk (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Grease two, 9-inch round cake pans.
3. In a mixer with a paddle attachment or a mixing bowl with a hand mixer, mix oil, buttermilk, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla extract until creamy.
4. In a medium bowl, add cocoa powder, flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda and whisk/sift to combine.
5. Slowly combine dry ingredients with wet, mixing on low speed. Scrape sides while mixing. Mix until smooth and well combined.
6. Divide batter in half into two bowls.
7. Fold in/lightly combine food colorings to batter, with one color in each bowl.
8. Pour cake batters into the 2 greased pans.
9. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into each cake comes out clean. Remove cakes when done and let cool in pans.
10. While cakes are baking, beat cream cheese, butter/margarine, and vanilla extract in a mixer/mixing bowl until frosting is light and fluffy.
11. Slowly pour in confectioner’s sugar, mixing on low speed at first. Once sugar is completely incorporated, increase speed and mix until creamy. If too thick, add milk.
12. Put each cake in separate mixing bowls and crumble into small pieces with a fork or hands.
13. Add half the icing to one bowl and half to the other. Thoroughly combine cake and icing in each bowl.
14. With a small scoop/tablespoon/or hands, form small balls from the mixture in the mixing bowls. Place the balls on cookie sheets lined with wax paper. Once complete, chill balls in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
15. After balls have chilled, make a double boiler (if you do not have one) by filling a saucepot with 1-2 inches of water and set to medium heat to simmer. Add a glass bowl inside saucepot. It should sit down in the pot but not touch water.
16. Melt white chocolate in double boiler. Stir often while chocolate is melting. Once melted, remove from heat.
17. To thin white chocolate to reach desired consistency for easy dipping, slowly stir in about 1-2 tsp vegetable oil as needed.
18. Carefully dip and coat balls into melted chocolate. Place coated cake balls back on cookie sheets, leaving a little space in between each one. Repeat until all cake balls have been dipped.
19. Refrigerate until white chocolate has hardened. Makes approximately 100 balls.

Food Coloring Colors for the Holidays
Fourth of July – red and blue
Christmas – red, green, and yellow


Original Ingredient:

Replace With (use exact measurements from above unless otherwise noted below):

extra-virgin olive oil

canola oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil, applesauce, or canned pumpkin


1 ½ Tbsp white vinegar and soy, rice, oat, whole, or any percentage of milk.

Mix and let sit 5 minutes.


egg substitutes, ¼ – ⅓ cup silken tofu, or egg whites

white wine vinegar

white distilled vinegar

vanilla extract (check labels for gluten-free)

almond extract

all-purpose flour

cake flour, gluten-free flour blend plus 1 ½ tsp xanthum gum or unbleached flour

granulated sugar

sugar substitutes

food coloring

all-natural food coloring

white chocolate

dark or semi-sweet chocolate

cream cheese (reduced fat)

cream cheese or Tofutti® Better Than Cream Cheese


dairy-free margarine or non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter

Milk (for frosting)

almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, or oat milk

vegetable oil

canola oil


chefs’ tips

–       Store oils in a dark cool place away from heat sources and sunlight.

–       Store flour in air-tight containers to prevent bugs. Adding a bay leaf to flour will also keep bugs away.

–       To check the freshness of an egg, fill a bowl with water. If the egg sinks to the bottom, it is fresh. If it floats, it needs to be discarded.

–       When cracking an egg, a stray piece of shell may fall in with it. Remove quickly by scooping it up with a larger piece of eggshell.

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Seafood Au Gratin – WVLT Chef Walter

I recently cooked with Chef Walter on WVLT Knoxville, TN, making my Seafood Au Gratin recipe from Be Your Own Chef.

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Repelling Mosquitoes with Food

bug sprayLike me, many of you are probably mosquito magnets. Since I despise wearing nasty, sticky bug spray, I figured there had to be some non-sticky options. Interestingly enough, several foods, plants, and herbs are natural mosquito repellents, making that icky bug spray something of the past.

Examples include lavender, rosemary, citronella grass, basil, lemon thyme, lemon balm, lemongrass, cat nip, and pennyroyal. The scents and oils in them act as a repellent to mosquitoes.

Crush the leaves of some of these herbs and plants to bring out their natural oils and fragrances. Then rub them on your body where you tend to get bitten, and those pesky mosquitoes will go and haunt someone else. Before doing this, make sure they are safe for children, as well as woman who are pregnant.

In addition, when you eat a substantial amount of garlic, the fragrance comes through our pores and naturally prevents mosquitoes from wanting to feast on us. Another trick is to rub a cracked clove of garlic on your skin, making sure the oil from the cracked clove is what is going on your skin. Also, by taking a vitamin B1 supplement (25 to 50 mgs three times a day), which is also known as thiamine, it will allow the aroma to come through your pores.

By simply growing marigolds, lemon balm, rosemary, mums, and garlic, just to name a few, the aroma can prevent those pesky mosquitoes from coming around.

Photo Courtesy: Håkan Dahlström

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Getting The Most Out of Your Asparagus


What to Look for When Buying Asparagus

  • Choose firm, bright green stalks with tightly closed tips and that are plump in size. If the color is fading or they are limp, that is a sign of being old. Also, check the stems at the bottom to make sure they look freshly cut, not shriveled up or dried out.

How To Store Asparagus for Longer Shelf Life

  • Fresh Asparagus will stay fresh for three to four days in the refrigerator. Do not wash your asparagus before you cook it.  You want to keep it in a cool and damp location. One way to store it is to place the unwashed stems/bottoms upright in a container in a few inches of water. Then place a plastic bag over them and loosely cover them. Let them sit like that in a refrigerator until you eat them.
  • Another option is to wrap the unwashed ends/bottoms in moist paper towels, place the bundle into a plastic bag, and place it in the refrigerator.

How to Prep Your Asparagus

  • To trim the stems/ tough ends, pick up one spear and hold it from each end. Then gently bend it with your hands, and where it snaps or naturally breaks, is where to cut off all the other stems.
  • Wash your asparagus only before cooking it by submerging it in warm water to remove any sand or grit.
  • If you purchase thick asparagus, you may need to peel them if the skin is tough. To do so, use a vegetable peeler to peel until you get to the more tender stalk underneath. Do not peel the tips.

How to Cook Your Asparagus

  • Boiling –  In a large pot, boil them in salted water for 5-8 minutes until they are tender crisp.  Salt is optional for added flavor
  • Steaming –  Either keep the asparagus long or cut diagonally into 2-3 inch pieces. Place them in a large pot with a steamer basket, adding water up to the steamer basket.  Steam them for 2-8 minutes or until tender crisp.
  • Sauté –  Cut each stalk diagonally into 2-3 inch pieces. Then place them in a skillet over medium to medium high heat with extra virgin olive oil.  Sauté for about 3-5 minutes stirring constantly.
  • Roasting – After washing them, pat dry and lay them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or on a cooling rack on a rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle them with a seasoning of your choice. Using your hands, make sure to evenly distribute oil and  seasoning all over each one.  Then, place in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 5-8 minutes. Cook until tender crisp.
  • Grilling – After washing them, pat them dry. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle them with a seasoning of your choice. Using your hands, make sure to evenly distribute oil and  seasoning all over each one. Then, place in a grill basket or lay perpendicular in a single layer on your grill so they do not fall through the cracks. Turn every few minutes, making sure you evenly cook each stalk.  Grill them until slightly brown in color and still crisp.
  • Microwaving-  After washing them, place them in a microwave -safe dish, adding about 1/4 cup of water to the dish. Then, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, stopping and stirring every few minutes.

Photo Courtesy: goosegrease

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Overcoming Life’s Difficulties – Speaking Thalia Lynn Baptist, Virginia Beach, VA

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New Recipe – Asian Lemon Chicken Pasta


1 package whole wheat noodles

2-4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

4-6 chicken breasts (one breast per person)Asian Lemon Chicken Pasta

ground black pepper and salt to taste

1 sliced onion

4-8 oz sliced shiitake mushrooms

2-3 lemons

1-2 cloves grated garlic

½ – 1 inch grated ginger

2-4 Tbsp soy sauce

1-2 tsp sesame seed oil

2-3 Tbsp sesame seeds

2-3 green onions, chopped diagonally into ½ – 1-inch pieces.



  1. In a pasta pot/stockpot on stovetop, bring pasta to boil in water on high heat until al dente (almost done).  Optionally, add salt to water to flavor pasta when water starts to boil.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat 1-2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet on stovetop over medium-high to high heat. When oil is hot, brown chicken in skillet, turning only when chicken pieces release themselves. Flavor with salt and pepper. Once brown, remove and set aside.
  3. In the same skillet over medium-high to high heat, add 1-2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, along with mushrooms and onion. Sauté until onion is translucent.
  4. After veggies are sautéed, add chicken back in, along with lemon juice, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, and sesame seeds.  Mix well.
  5. When noodles are al dente, drain water. Add noodles to skillet with chicken and vegetables. Stir and combine well. Mix in green onion. Serves 4-6 people.



Original Ingredient:

Replace With:

whole wheat noodles

brown rice pasta, semolina pasta, or any type of spaghetti pasta

extra-virgin olive oil

canola oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil, melted butter/margarine, or non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter

chicken breasts

boneless chicken thighs, steak, pork loin, tofu, or mushrooms only


any type of onion

shiitake mushrooms

any type of mushrooms




⅛ – ¼ tsp garlic powder or 1 tsp minced garlic

ginger root

galangal or leave out

soy sauce

Shoyu soy sauce, gluten-free soy sauce, tamari sauce, or teriyaki sauce

green onions

¼ – ⅓ large container chives (chopped)

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